Birds & Bergs
FI to Signy
Just as we were starting to get into the swing of being on the water we've returned to dry land and the relative civilisation of the Falkland Islands. We arrived on Sunday afternoon, cruised around the Islands to Mare Harbour, then stopped just outside for the rest of Sunday. It was nice to see the land all around us and not have the boat bounce about like a mouse tormented by a playful cat, but it would have been better still if we'd been able to stand on something solid, and walk more than eighty meters from anywhere else. The weather was kind, though, and we were warm enough in the sun to sit out for some time before a little party to celebrate passing the Captain's weekly cabin inspection.
On Monday the anchor was pulled back up and we made our way slowly into the dock at Mare Harbour. It's a very small dock, one of only two ports run by the army, in the middle of nowhere in particular. We are sharing the dock with a patrol boat and a destroyer but mostly keep ourselves to ourselves.
Having landed we had work to do, sorting and shifting fresh food for our first call at all the bases, throwing bags of onions and spuds down lines snaking through doors and down stairways. Hard work, but welcome after a week of nothing much. That complete, and a supply of cucumbers secured for Hound Bay, we went on shore leave.
The land near the port is a barren sand-marsh, with tougher dunes popping out here and there. Local landmarks include the rubbish tip, and the road away to Mount Pleasant. A pill box here and there, and fences dangling red markers remind you to keep on the path when out for a walk. As we only had half a day left on Monday, we wondered about an hour from the ship to Bertha's Bay, where we hoped to find a penguin colony. The colony seemed to have wondered off, but a few oyster catchers (black, skittish, with red-biro-beaks pointing forwards, beep like a digital watch), upland geese, sheep and unidentified little birds that dashed around the edge of the sea kept us company instead.
Seeing we are English, and there was ocean, Julius and I went for a little paddle in the chilly waters. Just as we had dusted off our feet and set off back to the ship, a little Gentoo penguin appeared in the distance, waddled along the waves, and carried on past us to the other end of the beach. Another first (of many) for the trip.
For the evening we headed up to Mount Pleasant, the main military garrison on the Islands, to play a bit of pool, use the bowling alleys and drink a bit of beer in a proper pub. Well, something close to a proper pub. The base, main claim to fame: longest corridor in the world, feels quite like Butlins, but with guns.
Today (Tuesday) we had a full day available and went on the bus into Stanley, about an hour away. The scenery on the way is unremarkable, like the highlands without the grandeur, or a flatter sort of Dartmoor. They have some odd rock formations which look like streams of boulders rather than water, like trenches dug out downhill then carefully packed in with stones. Otherwise everything is scrubby green and brown.
Stanley is compact. Neat tiers of tin houses, white walls, red, green or blue roofs. Firey gorse bushes in full yellow bloom. Shipwrecks dotted here and there. Hordes of passengers off cruise ships meander about and get in the way (we think the population of Stanley about tripled). We had a walk around town, visited every shop, found nothing to buy, filled in a few postcards.
Stanley exhausted, and the tourists exhausting , we set off for a walk to nearby Gypsy cove. The route takes you out of Stanley through its industrial estate, past the upturned beached refrigerator that is the port, then away from town past dramatic shipwrecks, with constant views back down the bay to Stanley scattered beneath a menacing sky, brooding hills in the background.
Gypsy cove was then over the brow of a hill and, it turns out, at the end of a road from town, foiling our attempts to escape the wobbling cruisers. The bay is unspoilt as the Argentinians planted a minefield under the penguins, a conservation measure untried elsewhere. There is a bit of a penguin themepark as a path winds down past the beach. There are a few penguins here, Magellans (I think), which live in holes in the ground but otherwise act like penguins should. Watching them swim in the shallows was great, as they abandon their ungainly waddle to dart about in their proper element.
The menacing sky then made good on its promise, and dumped water on us the whole way home. I'm now back on the ship, we expect to sail at 1700 on Wednesday.
(The penguins will appear in the Halley Advent Calendar shortly.)
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